A Man on a Mission
There should really be a movie made about William Tyndale. His is an adventure story. This is not the story of some scholarly, ivory-tower theologian. Tyndale had a singular desire, and that was to see the Word of God available in the native language of his people.
These folks did not have the Word of God available to them—it was only available in Latin. And so few people could read Latin. Even many of the priests didn’t know Latin. This was a time in the church when there was simply not access to the Word of God. And without access to the Word of God, we simply will not hear, or know, the gospel.
He’s sometimes called God’s outlaw. That’s indeed what William Tyndale was.
Tyndale wanted precisely this—people to hear and know the gospel. But this was against the law in England. In fact, it was a law that was punishable by death. And so Tyndale realized that he could not do this in England. So, he left England, went to Germany, and ended up in the city of Mainz. The city of Mainz has a rich history in printing, because that’s where the very first printing press was set up by Johannes Gutenberg. And of course, the first book to come off of Gutenberg’s press was the Bible. It was the Bible in Latin—the Gutenberg Bible.
So Tyndale went there to print the Bible in English. He assumed a false name so that he could fly under the radar and he gathered just a few people to work on this project with him and selected a printer that he could trust.
The Secretive Work of William Tyndale
This group would do their work during the day, going about their normal business that would pay the bills as a printer and keep the shop open. After they all went home in the evening hours, they would quietly make their way back to the shop, and overnight, they would work on printing the Bible in English.
At some point, one of them betrayed Tyndale, turning him over to the authorities. This is as if straight out of an adventure story. As the authorities came, Tyndale’s betrayer had a change of mind, and just as he tipped off the authorities, he also gave Tyndale a warning that the authorities were coming for him.
Tyndale quickly gathered up as many of the pages as he could. He’d only made it into the first few chapters of Matthew, so he gathered up the few pages that were printed, bundled them in his satchel, and ran out the back door of the print shop, literally as the authorities were coming in.
He ended up going to the city of Wittenberg, where he associated himself with and learned from Martin Luther. Yet his commitment remained to print the Word of God in English. And God blessed his efforts. He succeeded in his mission and produced the Tyndale New Testament.
The fascinating thing is that probably 85% of the King James text is the Tyndale text. And of course, all of the English texts since then have come back to the King James as their base.
So as we sit today and read our different versions—for instance, the English Standard Version—we need to remember the debt that we owe to William Tyndale.
He eventually was caught and martyred for his commitment to see the Word of God in English. He’s sometimes called God's outlaw. That’s indeed what William Tyndale was.
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